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These 5 Tax Day flubs could cost you your refund

Key Points
  • July 15 is the last day to file your 2019 return and pay taxes owed for that year. You have until that date to file an extension, which will give you three more months to submit your return.
  • The IRS had received 142.4 million individual income tax returns as of July 3. The agency has paid out 95.2 million refunds, delivering an average refund of $2,762.
  • Rushing out a return with only hours to spare? Careless errors, including incorrect Social Security numbers and inaccurate calculations for deductions and credits, will cost you.
Valentinrussanov

Tax Day has finally arrived. Just make sure sloppy work doesn't get between you and your refund.

Midnight on July 15 is the deadline for 2019 individual income tax returns, as well as any payments owed for that year.

A pile of additional documents and payments are also due Wednesday, including estimated taxes for the first two quarters of 2020.

The IRS received 142.4 million individual income tax returns as of July 3 and has paid out 95.2 million refunds. The average refund is $2,762.

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A rush to the finish line could cost you.

"The most common thing we see is people who wait until the last minute, but they don't have the money to pay the balance due right now," said Nathan Rigney, lead tax research analyst for the Tax Institute at H&R Block.

"There's this tendency to bury your head in the sand and not file because you can't pay, and that's the biggest mistake."

Here are five common errors that could delay or reduce your refund.

1. Inputting incorrect data for dependents

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What to know about July's tax day

Careless errors can delay your tax refund, so be on the lookout for typos.

For instance, you'll need your child's Social Security number and full name — as it is on his or her Social Security card — in order to claim the $2,000 child tax credit.

Be aware of other changes in your household over the last year.

"If you're in a rush, your tendency might be to look at last year's return and fill out the form the same way you did then," said Neal Stern, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs' national CPA financial literacy commission.

"But maybe your parent moved in with you, or your adult child moved back in," he said.

Indeed, qualifying dependents who are 17 and over are eligible for a tax credit of up to $500.

2. Using the wrong filing status

Ariel Skelley

Filing status is key  in determining your tax liability and the credits you can pick up when you file.

For instance, "married filing separately" might make sense if you're splitting up and you don't trust the accuracy of your partner's return.

However, those who file separately end up with a lower standard deduction: $12,200 for 2019, instead of the $24,400 available to joint filers. Separate filers also miss a bevy of tax breaks, including the earned income tax credit, student loan interest deduction and the child and dependent care credit.

Head of household is another status that generates confusion. In this case, the single-parent taxpayer must be unmarried — that is, legally separated by the end of the tax year — and living with the child for at least six months.

This taxpayer must also have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year.

3. Skipping key credits and deductions

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If you push through your return, you could miss unexpected tax savings opportunities.

New parents might be unaware that they can nab the child and dependent care credit. This  break can be valued at up to $1,050 per child under age 13 — or $2,100 for two or more kids under 13.

There's also the lifetime learning credit, valued up to $2,000 per tax return. "You don't have to be a full-time student to qualify for the lifetime learning credit," said Stern. "You can take on courses while you're working."

If you itemize deductions, be sure you have the documents to back up what you're claiming.

This could include statements from your lender if you're deducting mortgage interest or acknowledgement letters and valuations for charitable donations.

4. Missing savings opportunities

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Not ready for tax day

July 15 is the last day to make contributions for the 2019 tax year to your individual retirement account. Savers can stash up to $6,000 in an IRA ($7,000 if they're over age 50).

If you have a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account, you also have until today to make a 2019 contribution.

So-called HSAs have three key tax benefits. You're contributing on a pretax or tax-deductible basis, and your savings will grow free of tax. If you use the proceeds for qualified medical costs, you can withdraw the cash tax-free.

For the 2019 tax year, contribute up to $3,500 if you have self-only coverage ($7,000 if you have a family plan). Toss in an extra $1,000 toward your HSA if you are 55 or older.

5. Not knowing when to ask for more time

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If you really don't think you'll be able to file a timely and accurate tax return, ask the IRS for an extension to Oct. 15.

Skipping your return altogether will cost you. If you owe the IRS, you're on the hook for a penalty of 5% of taxes owed, charged for each month or part of a month the return is late.

If the IRS owes you a refund, you won't be able to collect it until you file.

Be aware that an extension to file isn't an extension to pay. Those who don't pay their taxes in full today face a penalty of 0.5% of taxes owed, assessed each month or part of a month you're late.

"You'll want a good estimate of what you owe and get the money in to the IRS," said Stern.